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237 posts from March 2008

March 28, 2008

Rubio's mortgage mess

Rubio State House Speaker Marco Rubio abruptly amended his financial disclosure forms Friday after The Miami Herald asked why they lacked a $135,000 home-equity loan he obtained from a bank controlled by his political supporters.

Rubio and his wife bought the West Miami home for $550,000 in December 2005, with a $55,000 down payment. A month later, Rubio qualified for the equity loan from Miami-based U.S. Century Bank because an appraisal valued the home far higher than the purchase price: $735,000.

Real-estate experts said the deal -- on which Rubio gained $185,000 in equity in just 37 days -- was unusual. But the 36-year-old Republican said Friday that it was all above board, that he obtained no special favors and that the failure to disclose the loan was just ``an oversight.''

''There's nothing unusual about the loan or the application,'' Rubio said. ``They went out and ordered the appraisal.... They said I qualified for $135,000. I took the equity line.''

Rubio said the appraisal was legitimate, considering the heady days of Miami's real estate boom, but experts aren't so sure.

''It looks a lot like somebody's currying favor with an important political person,'' said Michael Cannon, a market analyst and executive director of Integra Realty Resources-Miami whose real estate column appears in The Herald. ``People off the street don't get this deal because he just purchased the property for $550,000. If it is a true equity loan, there has to be equity in the house to make the loan.''

More here

Say 'cheese' Jennifer and Owen, the mayor and gov are here

Crist_at_marley_and_me_set_3Gov. Charlie Crist stopped by the movie set of Marley and Me in Coral Gables on Friday to check out production of the movie based on the best-selling book by former Sun-Sentinel Palm Beach columnist John Grogan about his family and their mischievous dog.

The governor noted that the movie is a beneficiary of the state's film rebate program and didn't miss the chance for a pic with the stars of the movie, Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson.

Pictured here: Miami-Dade County Deputy Manager Pete Hernandez, City of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, actor Owen Wilson, actress Jennifer Aniston, and Gov. Charlie Crist.

Crist at construction site: more inspections are good

Gov. Charlie Crist on Friday briefly toured the site of Tuesday's tower crane collapse in Miami, then endorsed legislation368talk29_crane_dade_jsp_embedded_2 pending in the Legislature that would regulate the training and certification of heavy crane operators.

''There is also legislation in Tallahassee,'' he told reporters in front of the construction site. ``It attempted to go through last year. It did not pass. But it looks like it has a much better opportunity [this year]. So I'm encouraged by that as well.''

Asked if he endorsed the pending crane bill, Crist replied: ``Yes, I do.''

He noted also that a Miami-Dade County ordinance went into effect Friday to regulate heavy cranes and added: ``Whenever you have more restrictions, more inspections that's always a good thing.''

The collapse Tuesday of a section of the tower crane killed two men and injured five.


Charlie Crist talks to the media after touring the site of the crane accident that killed two workers and injured five at the Paramount Bay Luxury Condo that are being built on Friday.

Nat'l Review questions Crist's conservative credentials as VP pick

National_review The National Review weighs in on the prospect of Gov. Charlie Crist as vp pick for John McCain and asks: "In some ways, Crist’s candidacy would make a lot of sense: He’d all but lock up Florida, a state McCain can’t afford to lose in November. He also has a strong record on crime, taxes, and spending. But is he the battle-tested conservative that so many in the Republican base believe McCain ought to pick?"

In a lengthy review of the governor's record, the conservative-leaning national magazine concludes: "Conservatives are likely to want a little more balance on the GOP presidential ticket. If McCain decides to spurn them, he would be smart to buy some disaster insurance beforehand." Read it here.

Tax commission snagged on words over tax swap plan

What happens if the proposed constitutional amendment you vote on isn't as artfully drawn as the alternative you didn't approve? And if you replace one with the other does that set you up for a legal challenge?

Those are the questions the Style and Drafting Committee of the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission are grappling with Friday over the high-stakes amendment they placed on the ballot last week to swap property taxes for sales taxes.

The amendment is now going through the editing process in a cramped conference room in the second floor of a 1940s-era Tallahassee office building. The committee has postponed final wording of the measure until next week at a Thursday meeting. But so far, it has agreed to make these changes:

* use the wording of the draft written by Commissioner Patricia Levesque for most of the wording of the almost identical proposal by Commissioner and lead sponsor John McKay;

* the effective date for the cap on assessments on non-homestead property will be from 10 to 5 percent will be the 2009 tax year;

* limit the ability of school districts to levy taxes beginning in 2010-11 by reducing their potential miilage rate from 10 mills to 5 mills.

Haridopolos trades tricks with tax panel; Biz lobby wants revisions

Sen. Mike Haridopolos reversed the tables on the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission this week, sending them a letter strongly urging them to "give their specific recommendations on how we offset the revenue lost'' by their proposal to swap $9.6 billion in property taxes for a penny increase in the sales tax and other sales tax options.

The commission deftly avoided that task by leaving the job to the Legislature, thereby avoiding an election-year debate over whose ox will be the next to be gored.

Haridopolos, a non-voting member of the commission, calls their bluff and asks in his letter: How about putting into writing "your submission'' to "allow Florida voters to make an informed decision on the amendment."

Translation: He wants to help opponents mount the campaign. Haridopolos is convinced that if voters are honestly told that the only way to replace the lost property taxes on schools is to impose $3 to $5 billion in taxes on services, from the $24 billion pool of services that are now untaxed, they will be better served. "No bait and switch here,'' he told the Herald. "Tell voters it's a 2.7 or 2.8-cent sales tax increase...or $5 billion in services tax to get my school tax cut.'' Download 3.26.08 Ltr from Sen Haridopolis.pdf

Meanwhile, the business lobby is hoping the commission's Style and Drafting Committee makes some hefty word changes to the proposal when it meets today. Their goal is to provoke a two-thirds vote of the commission to get the new wording passed, and that in turn could open the door to amendments to it. They have abandoned hope of getting the measure repealed, several business lobbyists told the Herald, but they're now hoping to get it revised. Their pitch: phase out the repeal of the required local effort and phase-in the addition of the replacement money. Read more here.

Commission Chairman Allan Bense is no fan of commissioners changing their votes, though. ''I personally think all of us are morally bound to maintain the first vote we made -- to respect the sponsor of that vote,'' he told us. Commissioners had 45 days to study and review the proposal, he added: ``If a member had significant problems with it, I suspect we would have had it aired at the meeting.''

Some commissioners say they did know what they were talking about when they approved the plan, even though the economists gave them dueling opinions.

March 27, 2008

Crist to visit site of crane accident, and movie set

Gov. Charlie Crist's visit to Miami Friday at 11:15 will include a visit to the construction site where a crane collapsed on Tuesday, killing two workers and injuring four others. "He's going to visit and learn,'' said spokeswoman Erin Isaac.

The gov will then visit the movie set of Marley and Me in Coconut Grove.

Democrats go on attack over budget cuts

House and Senate Democrats went on the attack Thursday, with the House Democrats contending that the budget cuts proposed by Republicans would only add to Florida's economic woes and Senate Democrats complaining that GOP lawmakers were refusing to consider other options, including closing tax loopholes that could generate hundreds of millions of dollars.

"These cuts are wrong, we can do better,'' said Rep. Joyce Cusack, a DeLand Democrat and nurse who complained about the House's plan to shutter a Palm Beach County hospital for TB patients and the proposed elimination of staffing standards for nursing homes. The nursing home standards were adopted as part of the compromise to give nursing homes protection from lawsuits. But Rep. Aaron Bean, chairman of the House Healthcare Council, said the nursing homes need "flexibility" now that the Legislature may cut their funding by 10 percent.

Senate Democrats by contrast raised alarms about the Senate's proposal to slash funding to the prison system and cutting more than 2,000 employees of the Department of Corrections. Senate Minority Leader Steve Geller complained that Senate leaders have so far refused to look at ways to generate additional money, including applying sales taxes to charter fishing boats, as well as go those who use current tax loopholes to avoid paying real estate taxes or corporate income taxes. Geller also called on lawmakers to approve the bill that would authorize all pari-mutuels in Florida to set up video lottery terminals, a type of electronic slot machine.

UPDATE: House Majority Leader Adam Hasner wasted little in shooting back at the Democrats, saying they were not offering "real solutions" to the state's budget crisis, other than House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber's bid to crack down on multistate corporations that avoid paying the state's corporate income taxes. Hasner and other Republicans have dismissed Gelber's bill - which was killed last week - as something that would harm the state's economy.

Rubio criticized Dade County leaders for budget mismanagement

Speaking to members of the Florida Association of Counties Thursday morning, House Speaker Marco Rubio criticized Miami-Dade County leaders for putting the blame on the state for the county's financial woes.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez released his proposed budget priorities Thursday morning, noting cuts in social service programs and layoffs in county positions would have to take place in order to cut spending by $200 million.

"Yesterday the budget director for the county says 'by the way we're going to have all these massive and painful cuts because the state is so evil," Rubio told the group. "Still on the one hand they found $3 billion to pull out this shell game. That kind of stuff is what puts tremendous amount of pressure on a budget."

Rubio was referring to the county's use of money from its Community Redevelopment Agency fund to bail out projects like the Performing Arts Center in Downtown Miami and Parrot Jungle Island. He also questioned the county's decision to support a multi-million baseball stadium plan in Downtown Miami intended to lure the Florida Marlins.

"They basically took CRA dollars, which are really there to develop Overtown, which is a depressed neighborhood to fund two projects that have never worked," Rubio said. "They're great projects, but they have never worked financially."

Senate passes proposed education amendment

Senators on Thursday Wednesday voted 32-4 in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature power to set tuition rates at state universities and make the Education Commissioner an elected Cabinet position.

The four No votes: Sunrise Democrat Nan Rich, St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Justice, Tampa Democrat Arthenia Joyner and Gainesville Republican Steve Oelrich.

The amendment still needs to pass the House by a three-fifths margin. If it's approved, the amendment would go on the November ballot and would need the support of at least 60 percent of voters.